Have you ever cried inside a VR headset? You’re about to.
I’m not what you would call a “crier.” So when something as simple as an interactive VR experience is able to make me tear up a little bit i’m pretty taken back. But that’s the power of Manifest 99, a VR journey that takes users through the final experiences of a group of mysterious train passengers heading to their inevitable doom. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that highlights the best and worst of humanity all in a stylish art style designed to get those tear ducts active. And boy does it work.
Developed by Flight School, a Dallas-based new media creative studio specializing in the eerie genre, Manifest 99 takes you on a narrative-driven adventure about death and finding redemption in the afterlife. Separated into four chapters following four different strangers, you’ll observe these personified animals and learn more about their respective journeys from a loving bear husband shipped off to a war eerily similar to that of WWI, to a caring owl nun dedicated to bringing cheer to a suffering patient. You’ll trail behind each subject as they hastily make their way further through the train in an attempt to escape the danger, all in vain of course.
While the experience isn’t on rails, it also doesn’t rely on motion controllers of any sort, instead using gaze-based technology to help you progress. By staring into the eyes of a crowd scattered throughout the train you’ll transport yourself into their bodies, searching for random Easter egg items that can result in a variety of different experiences. Eventually you’ll take over the role of each main character and discover each of their decisions that lead to this point.
“Movement in virtual reality has always been a challenge,” notes Flight School Chief Creative Officer Brandon Oldenburg. “We realized that how you move around in VR has to be more than a mechanic, and by advancing the viewer by gazing into the characters’ eyes we were able to discover a strong motivation for movement within the experience that pushed the story further, rather than disrupt it.”
Now if you’ve already shut your blinds and hid under the covers to avoid anymore sadness in this story, I will say that the story wraps up beautifully as we learn more about the characters and how they’re connected. Without giving away any spoilers the journey definitely ends on a positive note that left my headset padding damp with a single tear.